Three Common Views of Mental Health Today

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

What is your view of mental health?

There are three common views of mental health today.

The most common view is the use of mental health as a proxy term or synonym for mental illness. This is not surprising given the focus today, especially in the United States, on the medical or pathogenesis model. In Europe, greater emphasis is placed on the Solutogenic model then here in the U.S. The issue of stigma associated with mental illness is probably a second reason why mental health is the preferred term as opposed to mental illness.

A second use of the term mental health is largely seen in the research and academic literature. In this view, mental health is seen as a more global concept that includes everything related to mental health, except for mental illness. This view establishes a separation between mental health and mental illness. Each are separate but related concepts. In this view, mental health and mental illness both have their own spectrum and continuum. Mental health ranges from languishing to flourishing, while mental illness ranges from mild to severe.

The third view of mental health treats mental health as a broad, umbrella like term, similar to the way the term physical health is used. When use this way, mental health consists of three components: mental wellness (AKA mental wellbeing, positive mental health), psychological/psychosocial distress and mental illness. This is the view of mental health I personally embrace and the view I encourage the employers I work with to also embrace.

Having three different views of mental health in play means an employer wishing to address mental health in the workplace must first decide which of the three views they will adopt within their organization. Since mental health means different things to different people, being clear about what mental health means in the organization really does need to be the first step.

The issue is not which view of mental health the employer chooses, only that they make a deliberate, conscious choice of one of the three, or create their own choice. It is critical from an implementation or operationalization perspective that everyone within the organization sings about mental health from the same sheet of music and that everyone rows the mental health boat in the same direction.

The financial services firm Capital One is fond of asking: What’s in your wallet?

I am fond of asking employers: What’s your organization’s view of mental health?



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William McPeck

William McPeck


Bill McPeck has been involved as a leader and practitioner in employee health, safety, wellness and wellbeing for close to 30 years.